Windstream Technologies is the American manufacturer of a new type of hybrid renewable energy source. Called the "SolarMill", the device combines PV panels with savonius-type (helix) wind turbines and a built-in inverter. The result is a compact source of energy that is able to make the best of both sunlight and prevailing wind currents. Late last year, Windstream announced a JV with an indian-based technology firm to develop a new "kilowatt in a box" product aimed at the Indian consumer market. I had a chance to talk to Venkat Kumar Tangirala, the president of Windstream's Indian division about the plans for their product in India and the prospects for government supported renewable energy in the subcontinent.
Cleanleap: To start off I'd like to ask you for a bit of an overview of what Windstream is doing in India and what its goals are there?
Venkat: Okay, the whole idea of starting Windstream in India ... let me go a year back, okay? We did pilots for three or four customers. One being ACC - it's one of the largest cement factories in India, and we implemented these trials for a period of six to eight months. After these trials we wanted to convert them to commercial opportunities and we considered importing Windstream products from the U.S. India has subsidies for solar and wind power, but a hybrid device is something very new, so the effort for us to educate people, obtain a business subsidy for this new class of device ... we thought it would not be commercially viable.
The next thing we did was to begin building a factory here in Hyderabad, that way we can have 80% of the content of the entire system developed and made in India. We'll have a product that's made in India, supplied in India, and also exported to other Asian countries, which helps us in bringing down the cost.
This is a whole new initiative that we have started, and the factory is coming up very fast and I think we'll be starting our manufacturing in April and the first product out of factory will be around the middle to end of May.
Cleanleap: And is that the Kilowatt-in-the-box product?
If you look at India we have been subsidizing solar power for the past three years and this is only increasing. The reason that solar energy has not spread at the rate it is supposed to be spreading is because of service issues. So the One-Kilowatt-in-a-Box, comes with complete solar, wind, battery and Inverter. all of these things are from one source and one vendor, we'll be servicing everything in the box. Which will make it hassle-free for customers.
Cleanleap: So it includes the inverter, it includes the panel, it includes - obviously - the turbine, and batteries as well?
Cleanleap: It's not really meant then to be serviced by the customer? So they would just plug it in and away they go?
WindStream engineers demonstrate the "Ikea approach" with a SolarMill
Cleanleap: Windstream in the United States seems to be aiming much more for commercial partners like, shopping centers or other big structures that require a lot of power – is Windstream India different in that it's targeting consumers directly?
Cleanleap: In an Indian household that is relying on a diesel generator in the basement or an intermittent power supply from the grid – will that kind of customer be able to walk into a shop somewhere and buy a Kilowatt-in-a-Box and put it on the roof?
Cleanleap: If it's designed to be easy to install, you wouldn't need even a specialist to come and install it for you, you could actually take the whole thing up to your roof and install it yourself?
Venkat: Yes. What we are trying to do is to make this product in such a simple way that it should be a do-it-by-yourself kind of model; Like Ikea furniture
Cleanleap: I suppose limited space is always a problem isn't it? Especially if you're in a dense, kind of city-type situation, and maybe even if you're living in a flat or a building where you have multiple occupants. It gets a little bit tricky for a product like yours right?
Cleanleap: So what about the wind part of it? In a big metropolis like Mumbai or Hyderabad, is there a significant amount of wind to actually turn the turbines?
And in rural areas, yes, there is good wind, but no matter where our device is located we will do a wind study analysis before we launch the product. We’re looking at 25% of the total Indian market where the wind and solar resources are available, and we are aiming to launch in those markets to start.
Cleanleap: So you'd be looking at a wind map and if there is not enough wind they would be better off just going with the straight solar PV?